Growing up orphans the only thing my brothers and I ever longed for was a place to belong and become – we wanted a family. I wished I had a mother who could teach me to love. And a father who could show me how to respect.
It’s not surprising that I grew up without love and respect. I was an orphan. When I walked into a room most people saw a dirt-eating caterpillar. And it was true because my young brothers and I scavenged through dustbins by the night.
Like a pack of hungry hideous hyenas, we dipped our hands into trash looking for anything that we could take home; a toothpaste, a body lotion, cooking oil, anything. Because we didn’t have anything but each other.
Walking to school with a dirty uniform and unbrushed teeth, I used to daydream about finding a bag full of money on the side of the road. The daydream became so real, I walked on the edges of the road, not to avoid traffic but looking for money.
I was convinced that if I had money all the problems in my life would go. You might say I was naive. But I think I was realistic. Kids from rich families were not skinny, they didn’t wear dirty clothes and everyone loved them. I wanted to be rich.
But when I went to bed, I didn’t care about riches. My brothers and I ate boiled vegetables with no cooking oil. However, it wasn’t the cooking oil that we missed. But our parents yet we never talked about them.
My father died when I was 9 and my mother when I was 16. According to Unicef, they’re more than 52 million orphans in Africa. In Zimbabwe, I was one of the 50,000 children who headed a household.
5 Things Only African Orphans Can Understand
1. Orphans want God, above all
After losing my father, my mother encouraged me to read the Bible. She always told me that our comfort was found in God’s promises. My mother showed me that God’s promises are different from men’s.
God doesn’t promise out of pride to flaunt his power, proclaim his position and parade his possessions. His promises are born out of love and they’re rooted in justice, mercy, and faithfulness. As an orphan, I didn’t care about power, positions, and possessions but justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
2. Orphans want people, not things
One chilly winter, a neighbor called me to her house. She gave me her old window curtains to use as bed sheets. The curtains were made from a thick cloth. And she said, “You’re an orphan. So, you are used to suffering.”
But my aunt was different. She had nothing. Yet, she boarded a bus from Harare to Karoi and spent three months with us. She chose to suffer together with poor orphans; leaving behind the comfort of her home. Orphans don’t need something, they need someone.
3. Orphans are troubled by depression
My brothers and I kept an induku under the bed. The stick was a replacement for our parents. It gave us protection. We had to protect ourselves. After all, each year many orphans are physically or sexually abused.
Sadly, the induku could not protect us against emotional abuse or post traumatic stress disorder. After losing my mother, I felt neglected and hopeless. Recent studies found nocturnal enuresis, oppositional defiant disorder, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts were higher among orphans.
4. Orphaned girls do better than boys
At school, there were many programs for supporting girls. Betty Makoni’s Girl Child Network was at the forefront, helping young girls navigate through life. But there was nothing for orphaned boys. We were on our own.
Interestingly, several studies across Africa have found orphaned girls are more resilient than boys. Esther Kaggwa, a researcher at Makerere University observed, “Male orphans… face the consequences of parental loss more than their female counterparts.”
5. Orphans are actually human beings
My brothers and I became invisible to our community the day our mother died. One of our neighbors used to spit on the floor when she saw me or my brothers. As orphans, we were often unkempt; we didn’t have the best clothes. People considered us disgusting.
But being an orphan didn’t mean I no longer had feelings. I was hurt when my neighbor spit. And I was disappointed when people avoided me. Losing parents didn’t mean I stopped being human. I was still a person – just an orphan.
This is what orphans want from Christians
I wanted food on my table, I wanted clean clothes in my wardrobe, I wanted a fresh breath in my mouth, and I wanted to smell like a bed of roses. After all, there was a girl I eyed. But all these things, required money.
Many people believe if they gave me a monthly handout it would have helped. After all, that is the premise of reputable organization such as Compassion International and World Vision. But it that might not be true.
I saw several orphans sponsor alcohol and drug abuse using their handout. Would you give money to your child if he’s susceptible to depression? There are things that money can’t buy. And those are the things that can make or break a person.
My aunt visited my orphaned family when I was preparing to write my national Ordinary Level exam. She brought structure to our family. Through that, I wrote my exams and got string of As setting a new academic record at the school.
There were more than half a dozen churches within half a mile from my home. Roman Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc. Yet, none of them thought of helping us, except our church. Because local churches focused on their members rather than the community.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.
-James 1:27 ESV
Sign up to get updates on my upcoming memoir: I Could Be Someone: A Memoir